Brace yourself for more farmstand drama: The Shandaken Town Board has voted 3 to 2 to hold a special meeting, on May 24 at 6pm, to discuss re-zoning a stretch of Route 28 in Mt. Tremper to permit more commercial activity. [Update: The date of the meeting has since been changed by the board to Wednesday, May 25 at 6pm.]
Here's a little background for the uninitiated. Hanover Farms, a 24-hour farmstand on Route 28, has been operating in blatant violation of Shandaken's zoning law for nearly a decade. The farmstand and its position of dubious legality have been a source of controversy for years, in a town already famous in the region for its ferocious politics.
In 2008, the town of Shandaken finally issued a citation to the farmstand, which is far larger than the 100 square feet permitted by law. Al Higley, the farmstand's owner, responded by threatening to hit the town with an expensive lawsuit.
It's like Fred Astaire says: Something's gotta give.
If Higley's supporters have their way, that something could be the zoning law itself. Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley read the following statement at last night's town board meeting:
As I'm sure most of you are aware, the Town Board is considering extending the Highway Business Zone, currently ending at the corner of Route 28 and Route 212 in Mt. Tremper, to cover adjacent parcels on Route 28. The proposed amendment would re-zone properties on the south side of Route 28 from the Cottages at Rockcut Ledge to the Tonche Bus Garage. Along the north side of Route 28 the proposal would re-zone from Route 28 frontage 250 feet into each lot down to Car Craft Towing, just past Alyce and Roger's Fruit Stand. We will be setting up a special meeting to discuss this issue through resolution tonight. Another topic to be discussed is the creation of a new law to address farm stands in town. The Town welcomes your emails and comments on the proposals.
Left unstated was the elephant in the room: The zoning change is being contemplated in order to make Hanover Farms legal.
Before opening the floor to public comments on the resolution, Stanley urged the audience not to comment on the re-zoning proposal itself, but only on the decision to have a meeting. Nevertheless a heated discussion ensued.
Shandaken resident Kathy Nolan had sharp criticism for the idea of making significant changes to existing zoning law without going through a comprehensive town-wide planning process.
"Your decision to start this without doing town-wide planning is just a waste of time and money," she said. "The process of doing that kind of zoning change is very well laid out in state law. You're not following it."
Other audience members complained that public awareness of the zoning proposal wasn't as high as the board seemed to think.
"I had not heard about this zoning thing until yesterday," one man said.
The town board narrowly passed the resolution to hold the special meeting, with Councilmen Tim Malloy and Doris Bartlett voting no.
"Over this last week i've gotten bombarded with emalis from people who are for the farmstand, but against the re-zoning on this," said Malloy, explaining his "no" vote.
Bartlett said simply, "I don't feel this is the answer to the problem."
This isn't the first time the town has discussed changing the zoning around Hanover Farms. A Phoenicia Times story about a town board meeting in 2009 noted that re-zoning the area could potentially jeopardize the Route 28 scenic byway project, which is still in the process of seeking federal scenic-byway status:*
Former planner Al Frisenda, speaking in favor of Higley’s stand, meanwhile said the solution for Higley would be for the town board to re-zone the area to a Highway Business Zone.
It was noted that such an action, or any effort to remove the proposed controls in the draft law, would possibly jeopardizee Scenic Byway status for the rest of the Route 28 corridor.
Here's the text of the resolution passed by the board last night:
WHEREAS, The Town Board will hold a Special Town Meeting on May 24, 2011; at 6pm in the Shandaken Town Hall,
THERFORE be it resolved that a Special Town Board meeting be held to discuss a zoning amendment in Mt. Tremper.
*Update, 5/5/11: Alan White, executive director of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development (the organization spearheading the Route 28 scenic byway project) says that re-zoning the area would not have any impact on whether Route 28 gets a federal scenic byway designation.
"This relatively innocuous action does not throw out an entire scenic byway," he said. "Regardless of what the town does on this relatively minor rezoning, we're submitting [the application for scenic byway status]. It doesn't put it in jeopardy. I just don't find that factual."